Dott.ssa Cristiana Ranieri

The complex relationship between little children and the big screen needs to be handled in a proper, balanced way so that it becomes a positive experience, in harmony with the world around your child. 

Video, be it television, film or computer, is currently one of the main vehicles through which children experience identification with others. A child may be exposed to situations that are at times remote and distant, and at other times so close that they seem real: it can trigger strong emotions, give way to fantasies.

We often hear about how a pre-established fantasy world can fuel passivity in a child. In actual fact, impersonal and passive fruition does not exist in TV programs or films: inner emotions are always stirred in some way making the experience, no matter how pre-packaged, personal. We just need to find a way in which to make the experience a positive one, in harmony with the child and the real world around him, and not an obstacle in his development.

Unlike VHS cassettes or DVDs, choosing to go to a movie theater to watch a film builds up certain expectations in a child's mind including desire and sharing a happy moment: the child is attracted by the trailers; a friend talks to him about it; he expresses his desire to an adult (father, mother, a relative); they plan the date on which to go ("We'll go Saturday if you behave"), and perhaps he can go with a friend to share the experience. Therefore, going to the movies at a theatre becomes an opportunity to be together and spend another important and pleasant moment with his parents. 

A movie theater is not your living room so it means that some rules have to be set: children need to learn to sit still, be quiet, and respect other viewers. This can lead to one of the many different experiences that contribute to an important step in cognitive development: acceptance and tolerance of shared realities that determine a child's passage from physiological childhood egocentrism. 

Read the Special on Children and Watching TV ->

Stories in film often contain the traditional characteristics of narratives and fairy tales.

Bruno Bettelheim, a psychologist who studied fairy tales and their emotional and psychological meanings, stated that fairy tales are able to engage children and their inner realities because they reflect man's eternal grappling with himself (feelings, fears, desires), others, and the outside events that set the background to development (trials to overcome, abandonment, adventures).

We can therefore think of the experience of going to the movies as part of the continuum of a child's imaginary life in his development.

In early childhood (4/5 years old or earlier if the child has a higher attention span), children begin to follow simple storylines with a linear plot and characters that are easy to identify (the good guy, the bad guy, the hero).

Later (6/10 years old), children can follow more complex plots and can handle stronger emotions. In fact they begin to find pleasure in feeling things with bated breath. But this shouldn't be reason enough to think that they can handle watching films that frighten them; this doesn't mean just horror movies, it also includes detective stories, mysteries and some action movies. 

After 10/11 years old, the list of movies available for children expands and includes films not specifically for children. 

See also "Children's Fears" ->

The division per age group comes naturally: parents know their own child and can guide him to watch films that are appropriate for his age and preferences. Parents act as a guide, but this isn't enough to shield children from negative experiences. Before taking a child to the movies, you should always be informed about the subject matter and how it is depicted by the director so as not to upset the emotional balance of the child and hasten development phases.

An example of this would be action movies that contain violence, films with sex scenes, comedies that have ambiguous plots or are filled with double meanings. These types of movies can disturb and create confusion because children may not understand them or perhaps only certain aspects of them are grasped.

Taking a child to the movies demands that a parent commits time to the event and takes on certain responsibilities. It may be easier to buy a movie on VHS or DVD and watch it at home, but this nevertheless means choosing an age-appropriate film that also takes a child's sensitivity into consideration.

Going to the movies or choosing a DVD to watch together means doing something for and with your child, accepting to identify with his make-believe life and share it together for a moment.